The Doodles and I have been doing school fairly faithfully and consistently the past three weeks or so. She’s *loving* it and I am too. So much fun to see her active little mind soak up new knowledge. As I’ve watched her learning I’ve been reminded of how much I have learned since having the honor of becoming the Mama to this amazing-rule-breaking-little creature. I know, I know, all kids are unique. All parents think their kids are exceptionally special. Normal parent bias aside though I have come to the conclusion that The Doodlebug *is* different and special in many ways compared to the average kid out there if books on parenting, childhood development etc. are to be trusted as any reliable indicator of “normal”. Her special qualities and traits swing to both ends of the spectrum from the amazing, really cool and good to the frustrating, bad and flat out disturbing.
I am so thankful for other parents who have been vulnerable and willing to share in their journeys and struggles with similarly different kiddos. It can be a lonely path fraught with insecurity to walk feeling as though you are the only parents dealing with a kid that all the average rules and sage advice of other parents doesn’t work for. Having all of four years of being her parent under my belt I finally feel like I can share some of the insights and valuable lessons I’ve learned being her Mom. I’m young, and I’m still oh-so-inexperienced at being a parent so please know that I share the following from a place of humility and anticipation of needing to re-learn things I think I already know and learning totally new things in addition to that.
Maybe some of these will apply or be helpful for you and your kid. Maybe not. And that is totally alright.
Affirmation, Approval and Positive Phrasing One of the anomalies that has never made sense to me about our particular little riddle kid is how she could be so over the top obtuse and emotionally heavy handed in her extreme reactions to things and yet respond on a hair-trigger emotional level sensitivity in other areas. She can sense disapproval a mile away even if it is never overtly expressed in any tangible way. And that negativity, disapproval or frustration fuels an attitude of frustration and non-compliance in her. It took me a whole lot longer than it should have to learn that positivity, expressed love and approval of *her* (not whatever bad behavior is going down) on my part can often-times totally turn around one of her horrible funks. The concept of positive phrasing is one that I am still in the throws of learning and refining but the results have already been productive enough that I am willing to keep it around as a concept that actually works with her. The idea behind it is that instead of majoring on the negative, for example; “Do not scream. It is terrible when you scream. You should never ever scream at people. Stop screaming. If you scream the repercussions will be _____” instead saying “When you are frustrated take a deep breath and try to calm yourself. It’s Ok to cry quietly. Try to find words to tell me or try to show me what is wrong. You need to be kind to others, screaming is unkind. Let’s try to help you figure out how to be kind even though you are really upset inside” The latter dialogue almost invariably produces far better results for both of us than me simply affirming to her how bad she’s being and how awful the current behavior really is while reinforcing a firmly drawn line in the sand of enforcement. I do realize there are some kids that respond well to clearly drawn lines firmly enforced with what could be classified as negative phrases. I’ve nannied those kids, I’ve been around them. So, I’m not knocking it as an effective training or parenting technique at all, it just doesn’t work for our girl.
Learning that this particular girlie not only benefits from but actually *needs* those extra measures of affirmation and positive phrasing has been a big deal for me.
– Being Different/Unique/Unusual is Ok.
Most of us in theory agree with this until we come face to face with either a few small things or a lot of big things that make our kid really different from average, normal, usual and typical. And then the pressure to find a way to get our child to conform kicks in and starts to build. This is usually unwittingly fueled by other helpful parents throwing out free advice or informing us how we could and should be doing things differently to produce a more normal and acceptable package of a kid. If fellow parents and peers don’t fuel it the experts in child development/psychology and training can always be relied upon to do so.
When I have asked some of the most successful people I know, especially in the realm of business, typically they all have similarly disparaging things to say about conformity to normal expectations in general as it relates to adults succeeding in the real world. That off-beat abnormal way of interacting with, and connecting with the world, may just be what sets a child up for phenomenal success the rest of their life. To go in and manually fight with and do continual battle with a small child over the principle of normality in areas that really do not matter at all, in the grand scheme of their lives may produce a moderately modified child who learns to conform somewhat. Or it may produce a child with deep seated insecurities and resentments against their parents and a feeling of never being fully accepted, never fully being “good enough” for their parents approval due to the years of stringent improvement and modification training the parents have so conscientiously poured into them. Or parents who try to win all battles on all fronts, not discriminating between vital and unimportant and completely burn out because not everything can be won, and end up losing on all fronts. Their child either cannot conform to the level that they need and want or has a stronger will. Whichever the case a loss of affection and precious moments of childhood joy can all too easily disappear into this world of “normal expectations” us parents of odd-balls find ourselves in.
At some point along the way I realized that either I can follow other parents rule-books, guide-lines and expectations with the oversight of some trusted “experts” or I could apply myself to learning *our* kid. Who SHE is. What works for her and what doesn’t. What is a reasonable expectation of her and what is unreasonable at any given stage of her growth and development. What is actually helpful to her and what is harmful. And that doing all of that means that I am being the best Mama possible to *this particular child* even if some of the same measures and decisions would not be best or even good for another child. Granting myself the emotional freedom to parent her as the truly unique little individual that she is regardless of external expectations has been by far the most crucial breakthrough concept in my short parenting career.
She wants, she needs, to be connected to our lives on a deep level. Just this past year I was amazed to notice how much more stable she was and responsive to training all through the day when I put forth special efforts every couple of hours to connect with her. The younger she was the more physical the connection needed to be. A back rub, a hug, a 5 minute cuddle on the couch with one of her short books, brushing her hair, tickling and kissing her. As she’s getting older the physical connection is still very beneficial and I would say even crucial but she is now able to connect in other ways. Verbally telling her misc. tid-bids that I notice and appreciate about who she is makes her glow. Affirming that she is doing a great job at whatever normal task or play project she’s engaged in also produces great results. And sometimes it’s just stopping what I’m doing and playing with her for a few minutes and entering into her vivid world of imagination vs. standing outside of it as the parental spectator. It connects her and grounds her emotionally in a way that she seems to struggle with otherwise.
I used to think her emotional “well” had a leak. It seemed to need far more frequent than normal re-filling. I still think this may be the case but my perspective has shifted as far as what my role needs to be in filling this “leaky” well. I don’t need to simply be pouring positive emotional energy into her well, the well also needs to be repaired and restored bit by bit so she is able to hold onto and retain emotional stability without needing the frequent “refills” from external sources. Part of the healing is happening as a matter of maturing as she gets older and part of it is happening by deliberately training her in truths that can help to reinforce a healthy well of emotional reserves.
I remember feeling stunned the first time she asked me “Do you like me Mama?” I responded with “Of course I love you Doodles!” and she reiterated “No, do you like me?” It has been a pivotal point for me as a parent to realize that it is crucial to my daughters understanding of her worth as a person that she be *liked* by her parents. Parents love, that is easy, that comes naturally and hopefully every child can take their parents love for granted. But to be genuinely liked and appreciated for who they are is something that some kids may desire and need even more. Especially kids who have multiple points of struggle in life either on a behavioral or learning level and ability. Learning to demonstrate how I like and appreciate her as a person in every respect has been something I never anticipated in my pre-parent days.
Diet and Nutrition
Anybody that knows us knows we are really into nutrition. Of course our business is a great motivation to pursue, but my interest has also been more powerfully fueled on a personal level in no small part by the not-so-small-anymore person in our lives. We learned by trial and error that certain foods create the perfect storm of bad behavior conditions in our precious child. What self control or ability to control some of the more extreme and bad behaviors she might have during good times would completely vanish with a serving of High Fructose Corn Syrup, MSG or food dye on the side. The first half of her short life we have learned many things to avoid in her diet and thus are able to prevent the worst or most obvious food-related flare-ups. The past couple of years have been spent learning what nutritional items help to actually support and enhance the good times. Her ability to sleep and be more emotionally even-keeled and handle life better oftentimes seems directly related to how consistent we have been in her good fat intake. She takes Cod Liver oil and High vitamin Butter oil on a daily basis in addition to minerals, probiotics and digestive enzymes. There are other supplements we may add depending on life circumstances but those are the day in and day out magic that seems to keep the good days coming.
Engaged Effort High mental energy levels, short attention span, spurts of brilliance all make for a very easily bored child. Once something is accomplished the next thing on the horizon is the challenge. She spent the whole first year of her life angry, mad and frustrated. When she couldn’t roll over she would scream in rage. When she figured out how to roll over she would howl because she couldn’t push herself into a sitting position. When she sat, she wailed in angry spurts because she fell down when she tried to crawl. She turned loose of the couch and walked perfectly 15 steps across the room at 10 months old before trying to run, falling and then wailing in anger that she couldn’t manage running. The “next thing” and her limitations in engaging fully with her world were enormously frustrating to her. She still finds any and all limitations to what she *wants* to do exceedingly frustrating. She wants to be an adult. She wants to be fully functional in an adults world. This means as a 4 year old, although she is a far less frustrated little tiny person than she was a 1 year old, she still has significant portions of her life that result in complete frustration.
It takes what sometimes feels like an enormous amount of extra effort on my part to keep her engaged in our world but the positive impact on her is immeasurable. We do almost all household tasks together. She often types long strings of letter and number messages to people in my IM boxes on my computer. She has “her” work (schoolwork) that is to be done on a daily basis on my laptop just like I have my work to do on it. She has chores and responsibilities around the house which include feeding and watering her cat. It takes time. It doesn’t always get done right. But it keeps her engaged and challenged and feeling as though she is part of the big world of big responsiblities. And she’s happier and more helpful. She loves to prove that she’s ready for an additional task or more advanced level of help. This morning she broke eggs into the pancake batter instead of just being allowed to mix them after I broke them. I’m pretty sure the glow of that one accomplishment got her through the rest of the day in a good mood.
These are just a few of the highlights of a multitude of lessons that have been so powerful for me to learn as her Mom. I’m pretty sure God put this amazing little kid in our lives far more for our benefit than for hers. I also am quite positive that whatever I’ve learned thus far on this journey of parenting is just the very tip of the iceberg. Makes me so excited to see what our next little individual-kid is going to be like. At least I know better than to have a rule-book written before he even arrives. There is a blank notebook of discoveries that I can’t wait to make about him after he get’s here. He can thank his big Sister for paving the way for indivualistic-style parenting. He can also thank her for the humbler, kinder and more teachable parents than he would have ever gotten otherwise.